Libraries and local history lovers got some good news recently — the Chicago Public Library received a $2 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to digitize and archive materials related to the city’s Black history, including items dating from the 1800s to the present day.
“[It] will allow us to process and digitize collections related to Black history that are here at Chicago Public Library, in addition to helping develop more of those types of collections,” said Stacie Williams of Chicago Public Library. “Also, it will provide a menu of public programming options at all 81 of our branches, and it will allow us to partner with Chicago and Illinois educators to help them use the collections for assignments and curriculum.”
In a press conference announcing the grant, Asif Wilson, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said he looks forward to seeing the ways this archival material will be used in the classroom.
“I’m proud to live and support teachers in a city with such rich archival resources,” Wilson said. “This opportunity will support access to those resources, and more importantly, given my work, getting those resources into schools where young people can learn about them to not only look back towards the past, but … to imagine the future.”
Williams emphasized that the work the grant makes possible will open up new opportunities for all of Chicago to discover new things about its history.
“While the Vivian Harsh research collection is very represented in terms of Black South Side history, Black people live all over the city of Chicago and we very much want our collections to be representative of Black people on the West Side, Black people on the North Side, queer Black people living all over the city,” Williams said. “Those are collections that we don’t necessarily have a great deal of documentation for. With this funding also comes our opportunity to give back to the city of Chicago, not just with the programming and with the actual availability of collections, but that we will be able to offer many grants to researchers, educators and other types of storytellers interested in telling you stories about Black life. This is our collective history, Black history here in Chicago, especially as Chicago has been the site of so many deeply transformative social movements in this country.”